Why add anything when this piece by Helene pretty much nails it down to the punctuation? Recounting Saturday’s game isn’t too important at a micro level; again, it’s not hard to start thinking in broader themes. For a team that takes so much pride in preparation, approach and execution, how do investment and competitiveness again become buzzwords just one game after they had been questioned publicly by the coach? John Stevens spoke honestly by saying that didn’t have an answer for what took place, and he’s speaking for a number of people who spent their Saturday watching the Kings’ 5-1 loss to the Sabres. The schedule couldn’t have been cushioned any better than returning home from a substandard road trip to play home games against teams that didn’t make the playoffs in each of the last two seasons and hadn’t won in regulation at Staples Center since the Ziggy Palffy days. From there, there was a carbon copy introduction: Los Angeles couldn’t take advantage of an early power play and yielded the game’s first goal a handful of minutes in. They’ve now trailed by multiple goals in five of eight games this season and haven’t led since the Montreal game. Something (-things!) is (are!) very off.
The Kings are low on skill, and it’s not exactly clear when that infusion will come beyond and including Gabe Vilardi, who has appeared in one development camp but no training camps or preseason games since being drafted in 2017. Los Angeles has done a good job adding intriguing depth through fragmentary but important signings to bolster their prospect pool through a number of successful pitches to NCAA and junior free agents and hit the nail on the head in Alex Iafallo, the team’s best forward through the first eight games. Rasmus Kupari is shaping towards being a realistic target to provide some of that skill, and really, the Kings can’t afford a miss with either Vilardi or Kupari. There are only three first round picks from their last 10 drafts currently suiting up for the team – Derek Forbort, Tanner Pearson and Adrian Kempe – and two of them were selected 29th and 30th overall. Apart from the first rounders, there are only three lineup regulars from any of the last eight drafts currently getting a regular shift in the NHL this season: Michael Amadio, Colin Miller and Valentin Zykov. For the last four years, the team has not been able to successfully counterbalance the important departures in production nor the emotional gravity from certain dressing room pillars, and while Ilya Kovalchuk’s skill is sorely needed, there is more of a root issue of not having been able to draft or cultivate production and gravity from within.
The Kings now have an opportunity to reassemble what is askew, and if you ask the coaching fraternity about Stevens, the universal appraisal of his ethos is that he’s well-prepared. This is a man who loves video and dissecting what he sees with his assistants and is one who welcomes dissent and will challenge others through cross-examination, which is something sorely needed. There are challenges right now in execution, absolutely. But the tactical challenge seemed to come up short in comparison to the more emotional challenges of the last two games, and it’s a worrying sign that, given the types of goals Buffalo scored, Los Angeles was once again beaten at their traditionally superior defense of the goalmouth and behind-the-net trenches.
-Lead photo via Adam Pantozzi/NHLI